Dr. Richard S. Hess

Old Testament Questions from the desk of Dr. Richard S. Hess

Text and History: Reassessing the Relationship between the Bible and Archaeological Findings

What is happening in the study of the history and archaeology of ancient Israel and the Old Testament?  Engage with Dr. Hess as he critically evaluates every part of this important book, edited and written by scholars in various disciplines.  However, it doesn’t end there!  Follow Dr. Hess’ response to two of the editors’ criticisms of this review.  See how the differences between understanding and interpretation of the data are developed.  Finally, join Dr. Hess and Dr. Martin Heide in the third review of the role of camels in the ancient Near East and the Bible, and read especially how Dr. Heide’s analysis lays to rest some widely assumed academic misconceptions.

For readers interested in a current review of the state of historical and archaeological study of the Old Testament, the following provides (1) an article length review of an important 2017 volume exploring this subject, followed by (2) a response to the editors (and authors of several chapter criticized in the review) regarding a response that they posted, and then (3) a review of an authoritative study of camels in the biblical world and the ancient Near East (including an important response by one of the authors of that book, supporting my review).

Revised and updated from the original publication of these three reviews in Denver Journal 23 (2020) and 25 (2022).

Text and History: Reassessing the Relationship between the Bible and Archaeological Findings: A Review Essay of Jennie Ebeling, J. Edward Wright, Mark Elliott, and Paul V. M. Flesher eds., The Old Testament in Archaeology and History (Waco: Baylor, 2017).

A Denver Journal Review Article by Denver Seminary Professor Dr. Richard S. Hess

Do the Bible and archaeology still have a relationship in scholarly studies of the ancient text?  Many Biblical scholars and archaeologists continue to work to bring together these two subjects.  This essay surveys a selection of representative researchers from both disciplines.  It evaluates discussions from all the major periods and from many of the cultural aspects of ancient Israel.  Rather than providing generalizations of a broad nature, there is an attempt to identify representatives from each period and to critically examine in detail their approaches, evidence, and conclusions.  The 2017 volume, The Old Testament in Archaeology and History, provides an important resource for accomplishing the goal of evaluating both generally and in detail the state of the relationship between archaeology and biblical studies.

The work under consideration is the product of eighteen contributors including the four editors (Jennie Ebeling, J. Edward Wright, Mark Elliott, and Paul V. M. Flesher eds. The Old Testament in in Archaeology and History. Waco: Baylor University Press, 2017. Hardback, xxxv+650 pp. ISBN 9781481307390. $59.95). The purpose of the book is to rectify a perceived absence of the critical use of archaeology and the Old Testament “to develop for its introductory readers a historical understanding of the ancient Israelites as they were, in all their achievements and failures” (p. 4).  It therefore seeks to serve as a textbook that uses the fruits of Syro-Palestinian archaeology and the academic study of history, specifically ancient Near Eastern history.  The editors recognize that the views of the contributors will not represent a unity.  The purpose of this essay will be to reflect on each of this essay is to reflect on each of the essays, to note the important historical and archaeological observations, and to annotate these studies in specific points as well as discussions of method.

The first chapter (Gary P. Arbino, “Introduction to the Geography and Archaeology of the Ancient Near East”) provides an excellent geographical and topographical context for the book by outlining the larger Middle East as well as the specific regions and features of Israel, Judah, and transjordan.  The author also provides a kind of abbreviated course in archaeological methods and techniques as used in the southern Levant.  The strengths and limitations of archaeology for historical interpretation are also briefly mentioned.  As with every chapter, a paragraph or two at the end provide an annotated guide for further reading in the subject area.

Chapter 2 (M. Elliott and P. V. M. Flesher, “Introduction to the Old Testament and Its Character as Historical Evidence”) surveys the manuscripts and books of the Old Testament at the beginning.  The text turns to consider the canon, arguing that its formation is late.  Aside from the diverse Qumran biblical texts (which do not mention the subject of canon beyond the reference to the common threefold division in 4QMMT fragment 10), the only evidence deduced is the mention of a debate regarding the status of the Song of Songs and Qohelet in M. Yadayim 3:5, usually dated to the end of the second century.  However, this text does not indicate the extent of the dispute (that took place earlier); and it affirms at the beginning and end of the paragraph that these two books were fully recognized as canonical.  After reviewing the ancient translations and editions of the Old Testament, various forms of critical study are discussed.  These trace the last century and a half.  The focus is on Pentateuchal criticism, especially the documentary hypothesis and the recent neo-documentarians.  Sweeping generalizations reject or ignore any view that critiques this approach.  For example, the linguistic evidence for the broad dating of biblical Hebrew into Classical and Late (as well as Early) is dismissed as “a long way from reaching a consensus” (p. 72).  This ignores the twenty-two scholars connected with universities around the world who affirmed various techniques and approaches for this sort of dating in Diachrony in Biblical Hebrew (Cynthia Miller-Naudé and Ziony Zevit eds., Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 2012).  On p. 74 we learn that “Conservatives often maintained that no scholar was worthy of undertaking an investigation of Holy Writ until there was some acknowledgement of its divine qualities and its inerrant nature.”  The authors feel no need to provide documented evidence for this statement.  On p. 75 the clear mention of “Israel” in the Egyptian Merneptah stele, dating the existence of Israel as a people group in the land of southern Canaan at the end of the thirteenth century BC, is followed at the bottom of the same page by the what the authors regard as the “incisive” statement of S. R. Driver that “archaeology has not confirmed any ‘single fact’ recorded in the Hebrew Bible prior to the tenth century BCE.”  Yet the books of Joshua and Judges would place Israel in the land by the late thirteenth century BC, in agreement with the Merneptah stele.  One could go on here with further comments about the final pages of the chapters and problematic statements.  Certainly, there is value in the literary study of the documentary hypothesis.  However, there are serious disagreements among serious Bible scholars.  To ignore these by calling one side names and praising the other side with unsubstantiated generalizations does little to advance the argument or provide a useful textbook.

Chapters 3 and 4 (Victor H. Matthews, “The West’s Rediscovery of the Holy Land” and Rachel Hallote “’Bible Lands Archaeology’ and ‘Biblical Archaeology’ in the Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries”) provide a fine survey of the early antiquarian and collecting interests of explorers as well as the gradual development of the archaeological and geographical study of the ancient Near East and of Palestine.  Along the way the decipherment and importance of the Egyptian and Akkadian languages and texts are discussed. Hallote’s piece ends with the founding of the British, German, French, and American schools in Jerusalem and their early work in the Holy Land.

William G. Dever’s essay, “A Critique of Biblical Archaeology: History and Interpretation,” is a noteworthy contribution to the volume.  In contrast to chapters 1 and 2, as well as ones that follow Dever, one finds here a well-balanced and appreciative approach to key figures in this area and their methods.  Although providing special focus on American and indigenous (mostly Israeli) archaeologists, Dever is much more aware of the larger philosophical (e.g., processural archaeology) and political (e.g., intifada) contexts that seem not to have been addressed by other chapters in this book engaging the last thirty years of the history of the discipline.  The chapter also reads as background and perhaps advertising for Dever’s own recent volume, Beyond the Texts: An Archaeological Portrait of Ancient Israel and Judah (see my review article of this work in Bulletin for Biblical Research 30 (2020) 261-276: “An Archaeological Synthesis of Israel’s History”).

The second part of the book, consisting of four chapters, considers “Israel before Settling in the Land.”  The first of these, by K. L. Noll (“In the Beginning, Archaeologically Speaking: Archaeology to the Bronze Ages in Canaan” – the subtitle seems odd), begins with a discussion of the opening chapters of Genesis that, along with most of the Old Testament, is best understood as “secular folklore.”  Noll cites only the work of Thomas L. Thompson to demonstrate his assertions of contradictions in Genesis 1-3, as well as later chapters.  Alternative explanations (or even the majority readings of the Classical Hebrew in these texts) are ignored and thus the work takes on an idiosyncratic perspective that it retains whenever discussing Bible.  Noll has helpful surveys of early hominids and their development (“mitochondrial Eve” is not mentioned) and his own perspectives on the influence of Late Bronze Age West Semitic rituals on ceremonial texts in Exodus and Leviticus.  For Noll these literary texts made their way from Canaan to Mesopotamia where they were preserved and encountered by Israelite scribes five hundred or a thousand years later (in the mid-first millennium BC).  There is no textual evidence to support this circuitous route.  Nor is there evidence for the view that any “religious” texts in the Bible were the preserve of elites who used them for their own interests and did not make them known to the Israelite public.  This and other interpretations of the biblical text do not address any objections but are presented as fact.  While there is literary influence, biblical literature knows nothing of the second millennium BC, according to Noll, because it does not mention pharaoh Merneptah or the Egyptian imperial presence in Canaan in the Late Bronze Age.  Noll does not consider my “Joshua and Egypt,” (pp. 144-50 in C. Cohen, C. Gottlieb, and M. Gruber eds., Visions of Life in Biblical Times: Essays in Honor of Meir Lubetski [Hebrew Bible Monographs, 76; Sheffield: Sheffield Phoenix, 2015]).  I point out that the presence of “Egypt” in Joshua is greater than its presence in the Amarna letters and other Late Bronze Age texts from southern Canaan.  If this is evidence for the lack of historical awareness, then the Amarna letters cannot come from the Late Bronze Age world of Egypt’s New Kingdom empire; an absurd conclusion. (Note that in the responses to their critical review of my paper [see link below] the authors allow to stand the following 2/12/20 statement by Niels Peter Lemche (still present almost 4 years later, when I accessed it in 9/22/23), “If I am right, the EA-letters includes a couple of references to the name of Pharaoh, in the correspondence between Pharaoh and the Babylonian king. Hess’ argument is ridiculous.” Because Babylon is not in Southern Canaan, this statement is itself without merit. Invented and false attributions to me that I never make have no place in an academic context. It is a sad comment on the author of this.)

Jill Baker writes chapter 7, “Canaan and the Canaanites.”  Reviewing some references to Canaan in the first half of the second millennium BC., Baker notes the original sense of the term in either “bow down” (Semitic) or “purple cloth” (Hurrian).  The view that Canaan includes Ugarit and Transjordan runs counter to the borders as defined by biblical and Egyptian sources. (See R. Hess, “Occurrences of Canaan in Late Bronze Age Archives of the West Semitic World,” pp. 365-372 in Israel Oriental Studies 18: Past Links: Studies in the Languages and Cultures of the Ancient Near East, Sh. Izre’el, I. Singer, and R. Zadok eds. [Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 1998].)   

Neither include these two in the territory of Canaan.  Texts from Ugarit distinguish people from Canaan from those of Ugarit.  The use of Canaanites in the Bible portrays the people in a negative light.  The section entitled “Historical Background” focuses on ecology, roads, and city-states; rather than on political history.  Nevertheless, there is much of interest here and the following summary of Bronze Age settlement patterns is valuable.  The same is true on the review of city planning, fortifications, gates, and public and private buildings.  The useful discussion on political structures and religions at Ugarit might profit by comparisons with contemporary West Semitic Emar.  Dothan should be added to the list of large Bronze Age burial sites.  Regarding Baker’s statement that the Bible’s portrayal of the Canaanites was that of “a thoroughly uncivilized people,” this might be balanced by other biblical texts (R. Hess, “’Because of the Wickedness of These Nations’ (Deut 9:4-5): The Canaanites – Ethical or Not?” pp. 17-38 in For Our Good Always: Studies on the Message and Influence of Deuteronomy in Honor of Daniel I. Block, Jason S. DeRouchie, Jason Gile, and Kenneth J. Turner eds. [Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 2013]).

Mark Elliott and J. Edward Wright contribute chapter 8, “The Book of Genesis and Israel’s Ancestral Traditions.” This essay provides a survey of the contents of Genesis 12-50.  It examines them with a variety of conclusions concerning the religion and historicity described here.  While many issues are touched on, a few additional notes might be worthwhile considering.  The chapter begins and ends asserting that Genesis 14:14 and similar texts demonstrate that Israel remembered its ancestors as worshipping the Canaanite god El.  While it may be true that Yahweh was known as El before he was revealed as Yahweh, it is difficult to equate the El of Genesis 14 with the Ugaritic El or a reconstruction of what El “must” have meant.  Its use as a title may be in play.  A few additional notes are appropriate.  Jacob’s stone pillars are explicitly memorials, not objects representing other deities (as in Deuteronomy 12:2-3).  The tree that Abraham plants (an ’eshel) is identified with a different term from the Asherah pole forbidden in Deuteronomy 16:21.  Contrary to Elliott and Wright, the term “Chaldeans” (in “Ur of the Chaldeans”) is increasingly unlikely to be anachronistic, as it is now attested in the twelfth century BC (see review of Becking’s ch. 19 below).  While Amorites were more diffuse at the end of the third millennium than previously thought, Gimil-Sin did not build an “Amorite Wall” to resist drought and famine.  The references to names such as Abram, Haran, and Serug prove nothing about dating.  Many names include elements common throughout the second and first millennia BC.  However, some forms, such as y-prefix names (Israel, Jacob, Isaac, Ishmael, Issachar), occur in sizeable numbers early in the second millennium BC as a large percentage of the recorded W. Semitic names.  By the late second millennium BC this number dwindles and reduces to less than ten percent as the centuries progress.  If one were to date the likeliest context for the relatively large percentage of such names in Genesis 12-36, it would be the early second millennium BC, not later.  Camels appear in a Middle Bronze Age ceramic design from Alalakh with indication of bearing a load.  They also appear as early as the third millennium BC in lexical texts (see the book and its review, including a comment by the distinguished author, Martin Heide, below; see also Martin Heide, “The Domestication of the Camel: Biological, Archaeological and Inscriptional Evidence from Mesopotamia, Israel and Arabia, and Literary Evidence from the Hebrew Bible,” Ugarit Forschungen 42 [2010]: 331-83).

Gerar (Tel Haror) may be a small site in the Late Bronze Age (and later) but it is one of the largest sites in southern Canaan in the Middle Bronze Age (c. 40 acres), a traditional date for the stories of Genesis 20 and 26.  The use of the term, “Philistine,” may be an updating of references to Aegean people in the region.  Aegean culture is attested by Middle Bronze Age Cypriot pottery and Minoan-style handles.  In Genesis 21:13 Beersheba is designated a “place,” not a “town.”   The “town” Beersheba in 26:33 is mentioned in the context of its presence “to this day,” i.e., a later period than Abraham.  The mention of Dan in Genesis 14:14 is no more surprising than the modern statement that “the Dutch settled New York” (rather than New Amsterdam).  The reference to Ai in Genesis is not necessarily to an occupied town as the term, Ai, means “the Ruin.”  As for early Arameans, the fourteenth century BC pharaoh Amenhotep III mentions “the one from Aram” as the name of a place in Syria.  Tiglath-pileser I (c. 1100 BC) equates the Arameans with the Ahlamu (an older term).  The Ahlamu appear as early as an 18th century BC (Middle Bronze Age) letter to Hammurabi.  I could go on with, among other things, a discussion of the Hyksos (c. 1750-1550 BC) and the manner in which they provide a unique background for Joseph.  However, this suffices to make the point that this chapter’s claims of contradiction and historical inaccuracy should be taken with a grain of salt.

J. Edward Wright, Mark Elliott, and Paul V. M. Flesher discuss “Israel In and Out of Egypt” in ch. 9. Once again, the writers (who are also the editors of this volume) give the reader two choices; either readers accept the editors’ reading of what “conservative” scholars think, or they accept that the text is riddled with contradictions and needs to be understood according to other scholars that the editors choose. Here I will try to contextualize a few statements that are made.  The authors state that, one of the two main problems with finding anything historical in the biblical account is that the “exodus story itself seems written to avoid historical specificity” (the other problem is the lack of archaeological evidence). The evidence for this is that it “assigns no names to either pharaoh mentioned or to the pharaoh’s daughter who raised Moses.”  A few pages later the authors note that “the book of Joshua’s stories of the conquest of Canaan never even presents the Egyptians as opponents in battle.”  A critical reader might ask, How important is this to establish historicity?  How often must the accounts mention the names of pharaohs and Egypt or the Egyptians?  We have only one set of literature to compare this with, the 300+ letters from rulers of southern Canaan in the Amarna age in the mid-fourteenth century BC and cuneiform documents from Late Bronze Age southern Canaan.  Although the genre is different, the letters certainly deal with current political and historical events.  Among several hundred cuneiform documents there is no mention of the name of the pharaoh himself, despite most of these letters being written to the pharaoh.  One must go north to Qatna to find the first mention of the name of pharaoh.  There and in the international correspondence, pharaoh’s name does appear.  Regarding “Egypt” or “Egyptian,” only six occurrences can be found in any Late Bronze Age documents from the area of Canaan around Tyre and to its south.  This contrasts with the book of Joshua that mentions Egypt/Egyptian 18 times (see R. Hess, “Joshua and Egypt,” cited above, especially p. 149). By the standard of naming pharaohs and their country, the Amarna letters must be non-historical texts, certainly not from the time they purport to come.  Of course, that is nonsense as is the “evidence” that the authors of ch. 9 use to decry the exodus account (and that of Joshua).

The authors summarize the exodus story and then describe the Documentary Hypothesis which enables them to state as a matter of fact that the exodus account was written down four centuries later.  I believe that the Pentateuch contains literary strands similar to the documentary sources.  It is, however, speculation that the exodus and other Pentateuchal accounts waited four centuries before “they began to be written down.”  The authors provide a nice historical review of Late Bronze Age Egypt and the presence of Semites there.  There is some note of the W. Semitic city of Tell ed-Dab’a in the eastern Delta and its association with Pi-Ramesses of the Egyptian records and Ramesses of Exodus 1:11.  Wright, Elliott, and Flesher discuss the well-known possibility that the fourteenth century BC toponym, “the land of the Shasu of Yhw” may be the first mention of Israel’s Yahweh outside the Bible.  The authors discuss theories regarding the identification of the Red Sea and of the route of the exodus.  However, they do not accept any evidence of historical value.  For them the “The exodus story thus presents a national theology of deliverance from slavery to freedom.”  Why did the nation choose to begin its history as a nation of slaves?  Who would invent such a national epic?  The writers assume that Numbers 14 and 20 project Israel as resident at Qadesh Barnea for 40 years.  However, verse 1 of ch. 20 begins with the preterite form of bw’, a verb normally translated as “enter” from somewhere else, not indicating an ongoing occupation.  Finally, they argue that many of the sites mentioned in Israel’s wandering that can be identified, were not occupied in the Late Bronze Age (and thus did not exist at that time):  Hebron, Arad, Hormah, Heshbon, Dibon, and the kingdoms of Edom and Moab.  Names of sites can shift as, for example, Jericho which moved several miles between its OT and NT sites.  Heshbon may not have been Tell Heshbon but nearby Late Bronze Age sites such as Tall al-‘Umeiri or Tall Jalul.  Dibon is known as a conquered population center in a Late Bronze Age itinerary of Ramesses II (Egyptian tbn).  The biblical texts purporting to come from the Late Bronze Age or Early Iron Age do not require the site to have people living at Hormah.  It may simply be a place so called (“destruction”) due to events (such as battles) there; and there may have been more than one place called Hormah (Numbers 21:3; Judges 1:17).  The same may be true of Arad or the site name may have been applied to nearby Tell Milḥ (Tel Malḥata).  Late Bronze Age pottery and tombs were found near Tell er-Rumeideh, the site ascribed to ancient Hebron.  Edom was likely occupied (sedentary) early in the Iron Age, and perhaps earlier, beside the copper mines at or near Khirbet en-Nahas; rather than in the highlands as previously thought.  Late Bronze Age towns have already been mentioned and additional ones have been identified by the Madeba Plains Project.  This evidence for occupation, whether sedentary or mobile pastoralism, suggests that coalitions could exist, especially temporary ones for special needs.  See the earlier example of Mari, where we have written documentation.  Whether these were briefly expanded city-states or something more, they allow for the picture of these regions as preserved in the biblical text.

Chapter 10, by J. P. Dessel, “Looking for the Israelites: The Archaeological Evidence,” introduces a new section on early Israel’s emergence in Canaan in the late 13th and early 12th centuries BC.  Dessel provides an excellent review of the dramatic demographic changes in the hill country and Galilee at the end of the 13th century, in the appearance of hundreds of small villages.  He describes these, including the distinctive four-roomed house architecture and village planning, the wide use of the collar rim storage jars, and the terracing and other increased use of storage pits and plastered cisterns.  These provide indications of people who may be Merneptah’s Israelites as identified on his Egyptian stele of c. 1208 BC.  The Ebal site (while anomalous in terms of earlier religious shrines) and the Bull site may be an altar and a local ritual center (although the Ebal site cannot be identified as the altar of Joshua 8).  Nevertheless, a diet devoid of pork (in contrast to the diet on the Philistine coast) comports with food regulations of the Hebrew Bible.  Dessel also provides a readable summary and evaluation of the various theories of Israel’s appearance, dividing into two groups:  Israelites coming from outside Canaan and those coming from inside Canaan.  This is one of the more useful sections of this volume.  I would just note that, while Albright may have been the first modern archaeologist to use the Conquest model, this had been the model of biblical historians for centuries before the advent of current archaeological explorations.  The chapter suggests that archaeologists take a variety of views regarding the connections between the biblical accounts and archaeological evidence, a suggestion not found in the next chapter.

Chapter 11, by Paul V. M. Flesher, has the same main title as ch. 10, but the subtitle indicates the difference: “Looking for the Israelites: The Evidence of the Biblical Text.”  This chapter incorporates the archaeological evidence of ch. 10 into the theory that the book of Joshua is largely the product of Deuteronomistic History writing; while the book of Judges demonstrates the realities of tribal fluidity and the overall importance of the Rachel tribes over that of Judah.  In this respect it may be significant to note that Joshua distinguishes allocation of the land, which is the main point of chs. 13-21, from actual settlement in the land.  The focus is clearly on the settlement of Caleb at Hebron (14:6-15), and of settlement in the highlands of central Canaan as represented by the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh (cf. e.g., 17:14-18), by the central meeting place of Shiloh in this region (e.g., 17:19), and by the covenant renewal in and around Shechem and Mt. Ebal (8:30-35; chs. 23, 24).  This actually corresponds well with the settlement picture in southern Canaan c. 1200 BC.  After a helpful review of many of the activities of the Judges, Flesher focuses on the victory poem of ch. 5 to argue that its early date coincides with the omission of many tribes and the naming of some groups as tribes that were not tribes in the later biblical material.  In fact, Judges 5 does not use the word for “tribe” (except as “staff” in v. 14).  Thus, it should not be used as a description of how the poet understood the tribes of her day.  The comments on Hazor actually coincide with the late 12th century BC, when many would date the Israelite destruction of Hazor in Joshua 11.  The association of Jabin with Hazor in Judges 4:2 is much more nuanced.  He is not designated king of Hazor but rather “King of Canaan.”  He ruled in or around Hazor; the beth preposition is not so clear.  Nor does Sisera appear to be associated with Hazor at all, but with another site that may be in a Canaanite coalition.  Finally, the mention of Judah in the book of Judges is not well described in this chapter.  It appears more than “just three times.”  In additions to the chapters that Flesher lists, it can be found in Judges 1 (vv. 2, 3, 4, 8, 9, 16, 17, 19) and in chs. 10, 15, 17, and 18.  It is true that the last two chapters reference a name from the area of Judah, but the overall impression is that the writing of the major parts of the book was done by someone(s) acquainted with a tribe of Judah.

Ann Killebrew, “The Philistines during the Period of the Judges,” provides an important and valuable overview of the biblical, extrabiblical textual, and archaeological evidence for the appearance of these peoples on the shores of the eastern Mediterranean coast.  She begins with a review of the biblical evidence.  This includes a special focus on the appearance of the Philistines in Judges and the early battles with Israel there and in the books of Samuel.  This is handled in a moderately critical fashion.  She provides one of the most complete and readable summaries of all the extrabiblical epigraphic and (Egyptian) iconographic evidence, and she does so in an orderly sequence that I have not seen elsewhere.  This includes the “classic” sources from Egypt as well as the materials found more recently at Aleppo, Tayinat and elsewhere in northern Syria.  This, as well as Killebrew’s personal archaeological experience at Tel Miqne/Ekron and her thorough knowledge of the archaeology of the other Philistine sites, provides a concrete evaluation of the cultural innovation and change that these peoples brought to the region of southern Canaan, as well as the connections of these material cultural forms to the Aegean and also to the regions of Cilicia (Amuq) in modern southern Turkey.  Killebrew concludes her discussion with a summary of the one or two “invasion” hypotheses and how these are tied to theories of chronology and dating.

Baruch Halpern writes ch. 13, “The United Monarchy: David between Saul and Solomon.”  Halpern summarizes and updates his arguments which focus on an evaluation of the biblical text, rather than a modern critical redaction of it.  The presentation is a creative application of archaeology, textual witnesses, and geopolitical theory to the period.  He notes that David ruled from Dan to Beersheba, with some domination of Ammon and official ties to other areas.  As various times he defeats Arameans and he garrisons Edom.  The plain of Philistia retains a culture distinct from Israel at this time.  Halpern notes that David’s good relations with Achish of Gath continued after he became king.  While Saul’s base was in Benjamin and stretched northward, David appears to move about Benjamin and central Judah, where the archaeology of the period reveals few settlements and thus plenty of room for movement independent of Saul’s control.  David’s attacks on nomadic gangs (Amalekites) in the Negev provided a basis for the loyalty of local towns and residences that served him well in his initial rule from Hebron.  David’s garrisoning of this area and of Edom to the south and east corresponds to the Negev settlements that Shishak claims to have destroyed c. 925 BC.  The disappearance of the Negev settlements after this and the settling of the Judean hills create a world unknown to the accounts of 1 and 2 Samuel.  On the basis of the pottery, Halpern dates to David’s time the Stepped Stone Structure and Eilat Mazar’s discovery of a public building in Jerusalem that is larger than what would be expected for a small regional center.  Contemporary Qeiyafa (on the Philistine border) was a ring fortress, that is a barracks with parallels to Tell Beit Mirsim and other Judean cities.  This large-scale construction gives evidence of central state planning and execution.  Davidic period (or earlier) inscriptions from Qeiyafa, Izbet Sartah, and Jerusalem share the same scribal tradition and suggest for Halpern “a state-supported administration” (p. 348).  I would agree and, in light of a writing exercise at a small village such as Izbet Sartah, believe that it suggests more widespread reading and writing.  The Negev forts also imply the central planning of a larger state.  Finally, the Tel Dan inscription demonstrates beyond doubt the presence of a Davidic dynasty in Judah.  Its discovery “struck a major blow to the school of minimalists who argued that David was no more historic than King Arthur” (p. 349).

Halpern places the advent of Iron Age IIA with the reign of King Solomon.  Like Yadin, he finds the identical six-chambered gates, along with similar pottery, at Hazor, Megiddo, and Gezer, give evidence of far-flung state planning and control (cf. 1 Kings 9:15-18).  Halpern notes the same gate at En Hazeva, which has the Roman name of Tamar, probably the Tamar that was another of Solomon’s forts. Shortly after Shishak’s invasion c. 925 BC the style of gates changed and no longer resembled one another.  These cities lack temples and a significant domestic presence.  Halpern finds here the desire to move the people into the countryside.  There they would promote agricultural work and also be discouraged from using these forts as centers for resistance.  Halpern believes that, along with the appearance of burnished red-slipped bowls, this period saw the beginning of international trade as well as a chariot force that would become legendary in its numbers by the time that Shalmaneser III encountered Ahab in 853 BC.  The temple palace complex, described in 1 Kings 6-7 and based in Jerusalem, was paralleled by contemporary structures of similar art and architecture at ‘Ain Dara, Tell Tayinat, and Sam’al.  David’s reign had brought an end to the Canaanite city-state kings and their polities as attested in the Amarna letters and in Joshua.  These cities took on a trading culture under David.  According to Halpern, by Solomon’s period new elites had residences in Jerusalem and in the provincial capitals (1 Kings 4:7-19) with their agricultural estates nearby.  Rather than only an earthquake as behind the destruction of Megiddo VIA, Halpern suggests Absalom and his allies as destroying the trade system or pharaoh Siamum in an otherwise unattested incursion.  Finally, Halpern observes: “Knauf’s point (1991b) about the import of the Faynan copper supply during this era when the copper supply from Cyprus was disrupted comports precisely with the Iron IB-IIA Negev settlement as a state policy” (p. 359). Cf. Ernst A. Knauf, “King Solomon’s Copper Supply,” in Phoenicia and the Bible [E. Lipiński ed.; Studia Phoenicia 11; Orientalia Lovaniensa 44; Leuven: Department Orientalistiesk, 1991], pp. 167-86).  Thus, the excavations of Levy and Najjar more than thirty miles south of the Dead Sea at Khirbet en-Nahas in Wadi Faynan confirm copper production in Edom, in the twelfth to eleventh and in the tenth to ninth centuries BC (Erez Ben-Yosef, Thomas E. Levy, and Mohammad Najjar, “New Iron Age Copper-Mine Fields Discovered in Southern Jordan,” Near Eastern Archaeology 72.2 [June 2009] 98-101).  In every region, in all the major sites, and in Jerusalem Halpern makes his case that his reading of the biblical text of Samuel conforms in large part to the archaeology with the geopolitical model that he brings to the discussion.

Randall W. Younker writes ch. 14, “Israel: The Prosperous Northern Kingdom.” This is a well written survey of its subject, taking the biblical, epigraphic, and archaeological evidence seriously; rather than privileging one in favor of the others.  He identifies nine dynasties, with those of Jeroboam I, Omri, and Jehu as the most important.  He stresses the abundant rainfall in the north that produced cereals, grapes, and olives.  Whether the population of the Northern Kingdom ever reached 800,000 may be disputed.  However, its position along key trade routes enhanced the agricultural productivity with the wealth of trade.  Younker begins his story with the Egyptian pharaoh Sheshonq I (biblical Shishak) who provided refuge for the future first king of the North, Jeroboam, when Solomon threatened him.  Shishak attacked Rehoboam of Judah and his cities c. 926 BC.  Younker argues against Finkelstein’s low chronology and the challenge that resets Iron Age IIA (c. 1000/980 – 840/830 BC) into the divided monarchy instead of the earlier monarchy.  He cites as support some of the arguments of Halpern (ch. 13 in this book).  Although I find insufficient evidence for two campaigns of Sheshonq into Israel and Judah, Younker makes the case for the evidence of destruction at Taanach IIB as connected with Sheshonq.  Since this stratum of Taanach matches Megiddo VA-IVB, and the latter can be associated best with the tenth century BC and the United Monarchy, this supports the traditional dating (not the low chronology).  Younker moves chronologically through the history of the Northern Kingdom of Israel.  From the time of the first king, Jeroboam, he identifies the high place at Dan and the large podium found there.  The pottery is tenth century and the cultic precinct may relate to 1 Kings 12:31.  Shechem Stratum IX is likely the structure that Jeroboam I rebuilt (1 Kings 12:25), following Stratum X’s destruction by Sheshonq.  Omri took control of Israel by 880 BC, at which point he created alliances with Phoenicia and with Judah, both through royal marriages.  The 11th-10th century scant remains at Samaria testify that Omri purchased an agricultural estate owned by Shemer and built his capital on it.  The large enclosure and palatial building that can be dated to Omri’s rule comport well with his construction of a palace here.  His son Ahab (c. 875-852 BC) is mentioned by the Assyrian King Shalmaneser III on the Qarqar stele that records the 853 BC battle.  In Samaria Ahab added walls and a pool (connected with 1 Kings 22:38?) and many ivory plaques and fragments (1 Kings 22:39).  The interpretation of Jezreel’s excavations, according to Younker who follows the excavators, was that it was primarily a military complex, destroyed near the end of the ninth century, perhaps by Hazael.  The large structures found there could have included a palace occupied by Ahab.  At Dan a large limestone structure with header-stretcher ashlars could have been a temple during the time of Ahab.  These and other cities suggest the wealth available during Ahab’s reign; wealth that, according to Shalmaneser III, enabled the king to field 2,000 chariots and 10,000 foot soldiers at the 853 BC battle of Qarqar.  Jehu’s dynasty began when this general killed Joram of Israel and Ahaziah of Judah in a coup, c. 842 BC.  This follows Hazael’s seizure of the Damascus throne.  It is possible, as Younker suggests, that the two were allies and Jehu was a vassal of Hazael who allowed his superior to take control of Transjordan.  About 841 BC Mesha may have occupied the Madaba plains, expanding control of Moab northward, as related in his inscription.  In the Tel Dan inscription, Hazael takes credit for the deaths of the two kings that his vassal Jehu may have killed.  Shalmaneser III appeared on the scene, destroying Hazael’s countryside; while Jehu submitted to the king, a scene recorded on the Black Obelisk from c. 841 BC.  Jehu’s successor Jehoahaz inherited a kingdom severely weakened by the assault of Hazael.  As Younker notes, the destruction at Tel Rehov and the end of occupation at Jezreel demonstrated this weakened kingdom.  He fielded a mere ten chariots compared with his father’s 2,000; a significant difference even if the latter number is an Assyrian exaggeration.  King Menahem of Israel (c. 752-742 BC) tried to pay off Tiglath-pileser III of Assyria with a tribute of one thousand silver talents, mentioned in both 2 Kings 15:19-20 and in the Assyrian king’s inscription from Calah.  Circa 735 BC, Pekah of Israel and Rezin of Damascus united to resist Assyria.  When Ahaz of Judah did not join them, they attacked him.  This Syro-Ephraimite war resulted in Ahaz paying Tiglath-pileser III who came against Damascus and executed Rezin.  He captured much of northern Israel and the area around the Sea of Galilee. Hoshea’s subsequent murder of Pekah is mentioned in both 2 Kings 15:29-30 and the Neo-Assyrian Kalhu Summary Inscriptions.  Hoshea’s tribute and loyalty to Assyria was replaced with rebellion and the withholding of tribute.  This led to the conquest of Samaria, the death of Hoshea, and the deportation of the northern population in 722-721 BC.  Younker concludes by noting how factors such as unequal wealth distribution and heavy taxation, despite Israel’s natural wealth, led to political instability and the ultimate downfall of the kingdom.  All in all, this chapter repays careful study for understanding the outline of the rise and fall of the Northern Kingdom of Israel.

Aren M. Maeir writes on “The Southern Kingdom of Judah: Surrounded by Enemies,” (ch. 15).  He finds the Judahite kingdom attested in the late tenth and ninth centuries BC by Shishak’s list, the Tel Dan inscription, and the Mesha stele.  Beginning with the late ninth century BC, Assyrian texts become important textual sources.  The absence of mention of Judah in pharaoh Shishak’s list of 925 BC may suggest the absence of a state or it may have been recorded in major parts of the inscription that have been lost.  Tel Dan and the Mesha stele both mention the “house of David,” evidence of a dynasty at this time.  Maier goes through the major periods and records the significant archaeological finds.  Unlike Dever and others, he does not emphasize the ninth century bullae discovered in the pool near the Gihon spring, noting that these may be later due to some Iron IIB materials found there.  Yet intrusive pottery should not date 150 bullae.  Along with Jerusalem, the author devotes time in each period to the evidence from the second city of the kingdom, Lachish.  His acceptance of both traditional and late chronologies affect the interpretations of the ninth century.  Thus forts in the Negev may indicate Judean state control if they are ninth century; but they may also represent Edomite expansion if they are later.  Is it really impossible to decide?  Others, such as Dever, see no difficulty in rejecting the low chronology.  Archaeologists, even some low chronologists, have moved toward a modified scheme (see Younker’s chapter above) that would date this material earlier than originally argued.  Iron IIB is the eighth century, beginning after the campaigns of Hazael.  The middle of the century experienced one or more earthquakes remembered in Amos 1:1 and found in the archaeological strata of several sites.  The rise of Assyria and the destruction of the Northern Kingdom have led many to suggest a large migration of northerners coming to Jerusalem and Judah.  Although the city and state did increase significantly in population, it was gradual rather than a sudden increase.  Maier follows Na’aman in presenting this evidence.  While important, it remains possible that the Assyrian pressure may have created a gradual population shift.  The Arad sanctuary was in use at this time but then went out of use at the end of Stratum IX, a period that may be associated with King Hezekiah’s cultic reform.  Maeier discusses the settlement pattern with various levels of sites (from capital city and administrative centers to villages and forts); cooking and the two distinctive styles of pots that were common (a large open vessel and a new smaller closed jug-like vessel); architecture that includes the four-room house with their most common orientation of entrances to the west (Faust); common bench tombs that may have resembled the four-room house, water systems with the most complex of these in Jerusalem, increased trade as well as taxes, Judah as an androcentric society, the kinship-based patronage structure as well as a complex bureaucracy, the LMLK jar handles on pottery that is minimally decorated, urban fortifications with chambered gates as well as smaller forts (and much information on war from Judah in its reliefs; but surprisingly little mention of horses and chariotry in warfare), and linguistic, artistic, and religious differences with the north (noting some pork consumption in the north).  Although there is not discussion of the final century of Judahite independence, this is an important study on the earlier period.

Jennie Ebeling contributes ch. 16, “Daily Life in Iron Age Israel and Judah.”  While the other editors of the book are each involved with several chapters, this is Ebeling’s only contribution.  It may be the best overall from the editors.  She draws from the Bible, archaeology, and ethnographic studies to reconstruct the patrilineal, “heterarchical” (following Carol Meyers) society; architecturally based around the 4-room or pillared house.  Her brief observations on art would have perhaps benefited more by a study of seal images and designs than by the Judean pillar figurines; whose function as goddess images has not been proven (given their cheap clay material and mass-produced manufacture).  A strong contribution of Ebeling’s chapter is her awareness of women’s activities and life cycles.  Female puberty initiation rites (assigned to Jephthah’s daughter in Judges 11:30-40), marriage, giving birth, typical work responsibilities, and (with men) burial in family bench tombs.  The sowing, harvesting, and processing of barley, wheat, grapes, and olives, as well as the use and consumption of sheep, goats, and cattle all contributed to the diet, textiles, energy, surplus trade, and other aspects of the daily lives of Israelites and Judeans.  Although commercial pottery and bread making seems to have included men, Ebeling assigns women with the major role for these activities in the domestic contexts.  She bases this on both biblical texts and ethnographic studies.  These roles and those of spinning and weaving can be localized in the same spatial contexts in some houses; which the author suggests may involve female activity areas.  After surveying the interesting room-by-room finds in two “four-room” houses at the Judean site of 8th/7th century Tel Halif, Ebeling concludes with a few additional observations on gender specific occupations and on archaeological finds she associates with the domestic cult.

Editors also contribute ch. 17, “Israel and Judah under Assyria’s Thumb.”  J. Edward Wright and Mark Elliott inform us that the belief in Yahwistic monotheism was a southern perspective that “few outside Jerusalem’s temple priesthood held” (p. 435).  Actually, this can be challenged in the seventh century by the virtually exclusive appearance of Yahweh, as opposed to any other divine name, in the personal names of Judean theophoric name bearers both within and outside of Jerusalem.  The writers provide a helpful review of Israelite and Judean prophets, though severely truncated.  I don’t understand the point that a book like Hosea lacks “the personal and narrative detail found in the narratives of Elijah” (p. 437).  It is difficult for me to read the narratives of chs. 1 and 3 of the prophet’s book without entering into the personal life and pathos of Hosea as much and more than that of Elijah.  The authors consider the archaeology and provide observations on the cities of Megiddo, Dan, and Gezer.  The majority of Judah and Israel lived in rural settlements.  Ekron could have produced a thousand tons of refined olive oil annually.  Several times the writers make the point that much writing did not survive because papyrus, on which most of the writing was done, disintegrated in the moist climate (among other factors).  Also noted in this section are the seals, bullae, ostraca, and other inscriptions that fill out our picture of this period, as well as those that do not assist because they are forgeries.  Events such as the fall of the northern kingdom and the deportation of the survivors are witnessed in Assyrian and Babylonian inscriptions.  The authors regard Sargon II’s claims that he took away 27,000 Israelites from Samara as “farfetched” (p. 445).  The subsequent provincial period reveals Assyrian tablets at Gezer and administrative buildings clustered around courtyards, in Assyrian style, at Megiddo, Gezer, and Dor.  A strong point for this chapter is the translation of relatively large sections of biblical texts from 2 Kings and 2 Chronicles, and of the Assyrian texts.  Both Jerusalem and much of Judah saw their populations rise substantially at the end of the eighth century, due to the Assyrian attacks and destruction of the Northern Kingdom of Israel.  King Hezekiah of Judah reigned at the end of the eighth century and enacted a reform toward Yahwistic monotheism.  Archaeologically, the authors identify the destruction of the Arad “temple,” the Beersheba horned altar, and the Lachish sanctuary with its stone altar.  Excavations at Lachish stratum III revealed a burn layer over the entire city, an estimated thirteen to nineteen thousand tons of field stones used to build a siege ramp, a mass burial cave of about 1,500 people, and lmlk jar handles.  The authors turn to Jerusalem and discuss construction of the Siloam tunnel, translating the text found there but noting R. Reich’s argument that the tunnel was built a century earlier (despite the problems with this that are not mentioned).  Sennacherib’s claim to have destroyed forty-six cities, but not Jerusalem, seems to be accepted by the authors.  They note that the Shephelah in western Judah never regained its status after the ravages of the Assyrian army.

The authors then turn to address deportations and note the 13,250 Israelites that Tiglath-pileser III claims to have deported from Galilee in his campaign of the 730’s BC; something that region did not recover from until the second century BC.  The resettlement of foreign peoples from around the ancient Near East to Samaria (2 Kings 17:24 and 18:34; Ezra 4:2 and 9-10 suggest further resettlements in the seventh century) left virtually no archaeological evidence in the region.  On the other hand, Sennacherib’s deportation of 200,150 people from Judah in 701 BC is “an impossible number” (p. 459).  By the end of the eighth century BC people bearing Hebrew names (with Yahwistic elements) were serving as administrators and chariot drivers for the Assyrian King Sargon II.  In the seventh century Samarians served as troops for the Assyrian king.  On p. 462 the authors ask the question concerning Hezekiah’s Yahwistic “monotheism” and his reforms: “did everyone in ancient Judah accept that ideology?”  I know of no one who would affirm this.  They then claim that King Manasseh, Hezekiah’s successor who promoted the worship of many gods, was likely driven by what the majority of the population wanted.  This may or may not be true.  Certainly, the assumption the authors make that the “Asherah figurines” (already assuming in the description what they seek to prove) demonstrate goddess worship can be questioned.  They do not.  We don’t know what purpose these mass-produced clay Judean pillar figurines served.  They are never explicitly identified as deities.  This seems unlikely in terms of their manufacture and the composition of the product.  The same is true of the altars and sanctuaries at Arad and Beersheba.  Their role in the worshipping of Yahweh or other deities is a matter of conjecture.  More likely, these attest to the great variety of religious practices in Judah in the eighth and seventh centuries.  In general, there is much freedom of worship and freedom of religion (the two points are not identical in ancient or modern states).  The authors argue that the conversion of Manasseh near the end of his life was an “invented” tale to encourage how Judeans returning from exile should live.  Wright and Elliott provide a helpful review of the Kuntillet Ajrud evidence, although again assuming that the thousands of terra-cotta Judean pillar figurines must be “fertility goddesses” (p. 466).  It simply is too great a leap to draw this conclusion.  There are also the two seventh century BC Ketef Hinnom inscriptions containing texts from Numbers 6:24-26 and Deuteronomy 7:9.  While these early texts in no way “proved the date of the composition of the book of Numbers,” they have indicated that “this blessing was known and used with the exact words now found in the Bible” (p. 468).  This one piece of evidence we have of an early text of the Bible would seem to directly contradict the assumption (largely held by these authors) that the priestly text of the Pentateuch must have a post-exilic date.

A discussion of Josiah concludes this chapter.  The authors summarize Josiah’s reformation but they also challenge several items: (1) the survival of the high places east of Jerusalem that Solomon had built (until Josiah destroyed them three centuries later, 2 Kings 23;13); (2) interpreting 2 Kings 23:22 to indicate that no one celebrated the Passover for more than four hundred years; (3) the first years of Josiah’s reign as a time of acceptance of “the temple full of pagan gods and vessels”; (4) the “discovery” of the book of the Law in the temple as something composed by officials sympathetic to and contemporary with Josiah; and (5) that “Josiah’s death in battle contradicts the peaceful death predicted for Josiah by Huldah” (p. 472).  Some alternatives to be considered are as follows.  (1) as earlier historians noted, these “high places” were likely connected to the embassies of the surrounding states.  There is no reason they would have been destroyed by any Judean king.  Even where a state of war existed between Judah and one of the Transjordan states, the embassy would have been closed and then, with the establishment of peace, re-opened with worship of the appropriate state deity by the officials from that state.  (2) 2 Kings 23:22 does not indicate that no Passover had been celebrated since the Judges.  Rather, it says that no Passover “like” (on such a vast level) Josiah’s had been celebrated.  (3) Yes, Josiah was a child (perhaps eight years of age; 2 Kings 22:1) in his early years and unable to enact reforms.  (4) This remains the hypothesis of DeWette and his followers.  It is hypothetical and deals with issues such as when Deuteronomistic language emerged and when the vassal treaty structure of Deuteronomy (with its initial historical prologue and its blessings) best fits.  (5) This interpretation does not consider whether the “in peace” element of Josiah’s death refers to the manner of his death or what the text emphasizes at this point, the peaceful status of Jerusalem and Judah at the time of Josiah’s death (long before its invasion by Babylon).  A summary concludes this chapter.

Chapter 18, “The Religions of the People Israel and Their Neighbors,” was contributed by the author of this review essay and will not receive further comment here.

Bob Becking’s ch. 19, “Destruction and Exile: Israel and the Babylonian Empire,” opens up with the claim, “Judaism arose out of the ancient Yahwistic religion only after the conquest of Alexander the Great” (p. 505).  Yet there are many scholars (e.g., Jacob Neusner) who would see Judaism emergent in the Exile and its aftermath.  Becking reaffirms (following the earlier chapters of this work) that Genesis 1-11 contain no historical data, including Abram’s origin in Mesopotamia, but rather it serves as “a sign of hope” for the exiles.  He bases the argument against any authentic tradition about Abram on Genesis 11:31 and its reference to Abram’s migration from Ur of the Chaldeans.  Citing a 1970 work, Becking writes, “This is an obvious anachronism, since this Aramaic-speaking tribe only entered the stage of history in the eighth century BCE” (p. 505).  This is now false.  Ran Zadok has published a 12th century BC Assyrian text that mentions Chaldee/Chaldean (Ran Zadok, “A Cylinder Inscription of Aššur-ketta-lēšir II,” in “Now It Happened in Those Days.” Studies in Biblical, Assyrian, and Ancient Near Eastern Historiography Presented to Mordechai Cogan [eds. A. Baruchi-Unna, T. Forti, S. Aḥituv, I. Ephʿal, and J. H. Tigay. 2 Volumes. Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 2017], vol. 1 pp. 309-40, especially TR 109 line 6, p. 316, with commentary on pp. 321, 331-34.  I thank K. Lawson Younger, Jr., for this reference).  Becking reviews the bad relations between Assyria and Babylon, so often evident in the seventh century.  He cites biblical sources and the Babylonian Chronicle to relate the familiar events of the fall of Assyria, beginning with the rise of the Babylonian Nabopolassar after the death of the Assyrian Ashurbanipal, led to multiple conquests of Jerusalem by the Babylonians beginning with that of Nebuchadnezzar in 605 BC and concluding with the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple in 587/586 BC.  Scythian arrowheads found in the destruction of Jerusalem’s defenses attest to the presence of this people as part of the Babylonian army (Jeremiah 51:27).  The controversy of whether the Babylonians left anyone alive in Judah and its environs is resolved by understanding that the land was devastated and many were exiled, but others remained in the land.  Becking notes that this is suggested by 2 Kings 25:11-15 and by the lack of destruction in various parts of the northern kingdom of Judah and the tribal area of Benjamin (see Cindy L. Van Volsem, “The Babylonian Period in the Region of Benjamin [586–538 BCE],” MA thesis, Institute of Holy Land Studies, 1987).  Becking provides a helpful review of some of the Lachish ostraca related to the Babylonian invasion as well as the Hanging Gardens, the Babylonian prisoner lists that mention Judean King Jehoiachin, some of the sixth and fifth century BC Akkadian texts from “the city of Judah” in Babylonia, and the reference to identical Persian period seal impressions of a Hananu Yehud found in the Judean Shephelah and in Babylon.  Becking relates the brief governorship of Gedeliah that ended with his murder.  He also discusses the Cyrus cylinder.  While it does not mention Jerusalem and Judah specifically, it certainly does describe the return of religious paraphernalia to temples under Cyrus’ rule; a reversal of the Babylonian practice.  He concludes with a discussion of the Murashu archive, a collection of more than eight hundred cuneiform tablets from a fifth century BC Judean community in southern Babylonia.  Overall, Becking presents much of the important political and cultural history of the late sixth and early fifth centuries BC.

Charles David Isbell concludes the book’s historical studies with “Persia and Yehud.”  He argues that Judean society was broken after the Babylonian invasion, but that only a few people were exiled and large urban centers remained, especially in Benjamin and the north.  This may be but we cannot know how many were exiled from the biblical or non-biblical sources.  Faust notes the absence of population throughout the urban centers of Judah.  Twice Isbell asserts that “The prophets had been correct” (pp. 532-33), first with reference to the Bible editors and then with reference to the perspective of the exiles in Babylonia where there was a concern to recreate the society the prophets envisioned for Judah.  The Cyrus cylinder establishes the repatriation policies for various cities whose inhabitants have been exiled.  The policy to return and worship one’s own deities allowed for economic redevelopment of various lands to provide income from them.  Isaiah 44:28-45:8 asserts that Cyrus, perhaps by doing this, was called by name and that Yahweh went with/before Cyrus; all expressions used in Babylon of Cyrus in relation to Marduk.  In the texts of Ezra and Nehemiah, Sheshbazzar, Zerubbabel, and Nehemiah are named governors of Judah.  Isbell finds Zoroastrianism influence in biblical religion in this time attested by such beliefs as the afterlife and dualism between good and evil.  However, this is not the only interpretation.  There is evidence in the archaeological and textual record that these elements already existed in earlier biblical and West Semitic religious traditions (R. S. Hess, Israelite Religions: An Archaeological and Biblical Survey [Grand Rapids: Baker, 2007], pp. 343-44).  Along with the prophecies of the second half of Isaiah, other prophets dated to this period describe the rebuilding of the Jerusalem temple and the importance of Zerubbabel in the Davidic line (Haggai and Zechariah).  Zechariah 9-14 also introduces apocalyptic visions of restoration.  Malachi (c. 460 BC according to Isbell) exhorts faithful obedience to receive God’s love and approval and to appear in the divine book of remembrance.  Yet it also looks to divine grace and the aid of two who would return to help the people; emphases that are just as important as those Isbell finds. The cuneiform texts from Al-Yahudu in Babylonia indicate that Jewish life went on in the Exile (see also the Murashu archive).  Isbell suggests Ezra did not have the full authority that the Bible claims for him.  Yet power to coerce was not Ezra’s goal; it was to change hearts and lives so that obedience would come willingly.  In this context, Nehemiah’s governorship provided more direct enforcement toward those who continued to resist and oppressed the poor.  Five additional governors of Judah are known in the Persian period based on coins and other written sources outside the Bible.  Isbell is correct in concluding that Nehemiah’s mention of the abuse of “former governors before me” (Nehemiah 5:15) then applies to Judean governors, not to those of Samaria.  The author concludes with Nehemiah’s opposition from Geshem the Arab, Tobiah the Ammonite, and Sanballat the Samaritan.  He discusses the Tobiad family influence from their center in Araq el-Amir, southwest of Amman.  The Samaritans are mentioned in the Elephantine papyri (c. 496-399 BC) and in the Wadi ed-Daliyah papyri found in a cave where Samaritans fleeing after their revolt against Alexander (331 BC) were murdered.  Surprisingly, Isbell does not mention Briant’s magisterial From Cyrus to Alexander: A History of the Persian Empire, in his annotated bibliography (Pierre Briant, From Cyrus to Alexander: A History of the Persian Empire [trans. Peter T. Daniels. Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 2002]).

Overall this well-written work can be recommended for its discussion of all data of major importance and for its presentation of significant interpretive models.  One gains the impression that the editors (except J. Ebeling whose chapter does not betray bias) lean towards a skeptical attitude regarding any use of the biblical text as a historical source.  However, there are many chapters written by others (often archaeologists) that balance this view, especially in the Iron Age and later.  All in all, I would recommend this book as an important and positive survey of the state of studies regarding Israel’s history and as containing essential essays for those researching and writing in the field.  Readers may decide for themselves whether the contributions are successful in bringing together archaeology and the Bible, using a variety of approaches.


Ben-Yosef, Erez, Thomas E. Levy, and Mohammad Najjar.

2009    “New Iron Age Copper-Mine Fields Discovered in Southern Jordan.” NEA 72.2 (June): 98-101.

Briant, Pierre.

2002    From Cyrus to Alexander: A History of the Persian Empire. Peter T. Daniels trans. Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns.

Dever, William G.

2017    Beyond the Texts: An Archaeological Portrait of Ancient Israel and Judah. Atlanta: SBL.

Ebeling, Jennie, J. Edward Wright, Mark Elliott, and Paul V. M. Flesher, eds.

2017    The Old Testament in Archaeology and History. Waco: Baylor University Press.

Heide, Martin.

2010    “The Domestication of the Camel: Biological, Archaeological and Inscriptional Evidence from Mesopotamia, Israel and Arabia, and Literary Evidence from the Hebrew Bible.” UF 42: 331-82.

Hess, Richard S.

2015    “Joshua in Egypt.” Pp. 144-50 in Visions of Life in Biblical Times: Essays in Honor of Meir Lubetski. C. Cohen, C. Gottlieb, and M. Gruber, eds. Hebrew Bible Monographs, 76. Sheffield: Sheffield Phoenix.

2013    “’Because of the Wickedness of These Nations’ (Deut 9:4-5): The Canaanites – Ethical or Not?” Pp. 17-37 in For Our Good Always: Studies on the Message and Influence of Deuteronomy in Honor of Daniel I. Block. Jason S. DeRouchie, Jason Gile, and Kenneth J. Turner eds. Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns.

2007    Israelite Religions: An Archaeological and Biblical Survey. Grand Rapids: Baker.

1998    “Occurrences of Canaan in Late Bronze Age Archives of the West Semitic World.” Pp. 365-72 in IOS 18: Past Links: Studies in the Languages and Cultures of the Ancient Near East. Sh. Izre’el, I. Singer, and R. Zadok eds. Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns.

Knauf, Ernst A.

1991    “King Solomon’s Copper Supply.“ Pp. 167-86 in Phoenicia and the Bible. E. Lipiński ed. Studia Phoenicia 11. Orientalia Lovaniensa 44. Leuven: Department Orientalistiesk.

Miller-Naudé, Cynthia, and Ziony Zevit, eds.

2012    Diachrony in Biblical Hebrew. Linguistic Studies in Ancient West Semitic volume 8. Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns.

Yournger, Jr., K. Lawson

2016    A Political History of the Arameans: From Their Origins to the End of Their Polities. Archaeology and Biblical Studies number 13. Atlanta: SBL Press.

Zadok, Ran.

2017    “A Cylinder Inscription of Aššur-ketta-lēšir II.” Volume 1, pp. 309-40 in “Now It Happened in Those Days.” Studies in Biblical, Assyrian, and Ancient Near Eastern Historiography Presented to Mordechai Cogan. A. Baruchi-Unna, T. Forti, S. Aḥituv, I. Ephʿal, and J. H. Tigay eds. 2 Volumes; Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns.


IOS     Israel Oriental Studies
NEA    Near Eastern Archaeology
       Ugarit Forschungen

Response to “Reply to the Richard Hess’ review of Old Testament in Archaeology and History” by Mark Elliott and Ed Wright

A Denver Journal Review by Denver Seminary Professor Dr. Richard S. Hess

For further study of the question of camels, see my review of Martin Heide and Joris Peters, Camels in the Biblical World, in Denver Journal Volume 25 (2022), reproduced below. 

I thank the authors for their interaction with my review of their book (see the following entry) at https://bibleinterp.arizona.edu/articles/reply-richard-hess-review-old-testament-archaeology-and-history

Because these editors devote all their attention to three of the twenty chapters that appear in the book, I will focus my response on what they write about these chapters.  Their observations are thus not concerned with my overall positive review of their book as a whole.  Instead, they are concerned to show how “he misrepresents what we say, or is simply mistaken in his critiques” of the three chapters that they contributed. 

In the first chapter where they critique my observations, they begin by misquoting me.  I nowhere state that they ignore any critique of Pentateuchal criticism.  Therefore, their comments in the first paragraph, citing various scholars who critique aspects of Pentateuchal criticism, are not relevant to my critique.  I do suggest that the “sweeping generalizations” they make in this chapter ignore the balance of both sides of the question.  Indeed, their comment that “Hess simply doesn’t accept critical assessments” is another example of such generalizing.  For more than a decade my Israelite Religions: An Archaeological and Biblical Survey (Baker, 2007) has illustrated how I do “accept” a variety of critical positions but I also have my own interpretation.  The value I place on accurately recording and reviewing opposing views is not found in the editors’ generalizations.

It is in this context that I criticized the generalization that the dating of Hebrew is a long way from consensus.  There are important works that would argue this point with more certainty than suggested here.  When one tries to find evidence for the lack of consensus, the only reference the editors give is “(Tigay 2005, xii).”  However, this reference does not appear in the bibliography at the end of the book nor in the “Suggestions for Further Reading” at the end of the chapter.  Where is the evidence?  If “a majority of scholars would find that paragraph to be an honest and fair assessment,” why does the single bibliography item to support this statement direct the reader to a dead end?

Another generalization of the editors occurs in their comment: “Conservatives often maintained that no scholar was worthy of undertaking an investigation of Holy Writ until there was some acknowledgement of its divine qualities and its inerrant nature” (p. 74).  Again, the statement attacks “conservatives” with no evidence to support it.  The editors’ “Reply” ignores this quote.  In attacking “conservatives” for not providing evidence for their assertions, the editors do not bother to provide evidence for their attack.

Regarding my comments on the Merneptah stele, I was not criticizing S. R. Driver.  As a scholar writing well over a century ago, his reputation and scholarship are not in question anywhere in my review.  Rather, it is the decision of the editors to juxtapose the Merneptah stele with a quote from Driver that appears to dismiss the importance of the find, without commenting that many later scholars, with the benefit of decades of careful study of the work, would see it differently.  While respecting Driver and his contribution, I would nevertheless see here a major piece of evidence for the existence of the Israel of the Bible before the tenth century. 

When the editors write, “Just what was the archaeological evidence that verified the events in the books of Joshua and Judges that Hess is referring to that should have been known to Driver in 1899,” they distort my comment in two ways.  First, I do not criticize Driver.  I criticize the editors with my comment, “Yet the books of Joshua and Judges would place Israel in the land by the late thirteenth century BC, in agreement with the Merneptah stele.”  Second, it is not my concern where the state of studies was one hundred twenty years ago.  It is my concern that today the analysis of the Merneptah stele supports evidence for the existence of the people of Israel at approximately the same time (pre-tenth century) that the books of Joshua and Judges purport to situate the people of Israel.  Perhaps this is not a fact for the editors; but they should at least address this rather than trotting out a false charge of criticizing Driver and obfuscating the issue.

The editors move to their chapter 8 where they cite comments I made about Jacob’s stone pillar described as a memorial.  The term, “simple memorial,” is one invented by the editors and applied to me.  I suspect the biblical concept of a memorial has deep, perhaps sacramental, significance.  However, the text describes an exclusive relationship to the God Jacob worships, not to another deity.  Citing texts from elsewhere in the Pentateuch about worshiping other deities does not change the Genesis text.  Genesis 21:33 and the reference to a “tree” may indicate the worship of a different El deity as the authors maintain.  This view follows Alt’s position but it is not the only possible interpretation of Genesis 21:33.  The point is that Asherah is not identified here (nor is Astarte nor any other goddess).  The tree is described using a distinctive term not associated with other forms of worship in the Hebrew Bible.  Its other occurrences have no explicit religious association (1 Samuel 22:6; 31:13; 1 Chronicles 10:12).  If the story intended to portray an Asherah tree one would expect to see it so named.  The fact that it is not and that a different term is used for the tree suggests that the story sought to move as far away as possible from a description of a separate El deity or of a goddess.

For camels, I attempted to note the presence of evidence for these animals much earlier than stated by the editors.  In addition to what I cited (especially Heide’s article), there is the evidence collected by Caroline Grigson, “Plough and Pasture in the Early Economy of the Southern Levant,” pp. 245-68 in The Archaeology of Society in the Holy Land, ed. T. Levy (New York: Facts on File, 1996).  On p. 259 Grigson notes the discovery of camel bones in Bronze Age Arad, Be’er Resisim (central Negev), Tel Jemmeh, and Timna.  She writes, “All these finds are peripheral to the southern Levant and probably represent animals used in the transport of goods to and from Arabia…”  The peripheral nature of the animal (e.g., as opposed to donkeys who are central to transport) and the connection with southern places concurs with what is found in Genesis.   

The editors insist “Hess appears to have missed Anne Killebrew’s chapter in our book on the Philistines.”  See my positive review of Killebrew’s chapter and note that the chapter is titled, “The Philistines during the Period of the Judges” and not during the period of Genesis.  The fourteenth century BC world of Canaan as portrayed by the Amarna letters bears witness to many, in some cases a majority, of rulers throughout all the major regions of southern Canaan (except the coast) as possessing non-West Semitic names.  There is no need to posit an invasion and most scholars studying this period have not suggested an invasion.  It is rather an example of cultural influence begun and sustained by trade, with a gradual movement into various regions by people from the Syrian and Anatolian areas, regions far away from southern Canaan.  Such could have been the case with one site named Gerar in the biblical text and with trade from the Mediterranean Sea.  Because this could have been the case does not mean that it was (contra the editors’ charge against my statement). 

As we move to ch. 9 of the book, once again expectations of what I think become the premise to attack me; rather than the use of facts.  The questions about inventing an origin in slavery is a good question to consider.  Rather than using it as evidence for validity to the exodus tradition, I note (in addition to the Merneptah stele) (1) the association of Tell ed-Dab’a with Pi-Ramesses of Egyptian New Kingdom texts and with Ramesses of Exodus 1:11; and (2) the apparent reference to Yahweh in the fourteenth century Egyptian toponym, “the land of the Shasu of Yhw.”  The editors are silent on these matters in their Reply. 

The editors attack my use of “decry” to identify their handling of the exodus account and that of Joshua.  Webster’s first definition of “decry” is “depreciate.”  I don’t see this as an inaccurate portrayal.  Thus, the editors argue that the absence of the mention of Egypt is an example of the lack of substantial historical value to the traditions of Joshua.  That is depreciating the historical value of the traditions behind Joshua.  The evidence of Amarna stands because it demonstrates how politically contemporary documents originating out of the Canaan described in the book of Joshua did not mention Egypt or the pharaoh.  My point has nothing to do with whether the editors discuss the Amarna letters in three pages.  To say that the comparison with the Amarna correspondence is inappropriate overlooks the fact that this is the single major extant corpus of literature from pre-Hellenistic southern Canaan outside the Bible.  To say that the comparison is impossible because the authors of Exodus are unknown overlooks how many of the Amarna letters are not preserved with named authors.  To say that the comparison is impossible because the composition of Exodus spanned generations and even centuries is a non sequitur.  On that basis no comparison with any extra biblical literature would be possible. 

My observations regarding sites on itineraries (and elsewhere) in the Pentateuch stand as they are.  Edom and Moab are mentioned in Ramesside itineraries.  Edom’s lowland sites such as Khirbet en-Nahas did have occupation extending early into the Iron Age. Site names do shift (as in the case of Jericho) and Jalul, Umayri, Tall Jawa were occupied and experienced destruction in Iron I.  No one denies that some scholars do not agree to a possible habitation of Moab and Edom.  However, the evidence here reflects common approaches to historical geography, approaches that are diverse in method but based on textual and archaeological witnesses. 

Five times the editors invoke the scholarly “consensus,” and three times elsewhere cite the “vast majority.”  They maintain that the scholarly consensus affirms that the Pentateuchal narratives date from the ninth or eighth centuries.  But this is not true.  There are major European and American interpretations that do not accept this date, preferring a later one.  These include Davies, Thompson, and Van Seters, to cite a few of the better known names.  None of these scholars would date many of the narratives of the Pentateuch to the centuries that the editors prefer.  Sadly, the final comments of the editors project psychological (“comforting”) and other motivations (“grasping at straws”) for those (such as myself) who challenge their views.    

Distortions of my position, dead end citations, and the addressing of facts with generalizations do not make a case.  My purpose in the original review was to suggest that there are alternative ways to look at the text and archaeology.  These are not limited to “conservative” scholars; they reflect the wide and diverse community of those who study these disciplines.  To insist that one cannot critically evaluate the views of others because those views are the “consensus” of the “vast majority” is to guarantee that scholarship will not progress.  

Richard S. Hess, Ph.D.
Distinguished Professor of Old Testament and Semitic Languages
Denver Seminary
February 2020

ADDENUM added September 22, 2023. In the above review I wrote, “Another generalization of the editors occurs is their comment: “‘Conservatives often maintained that no scholar was worthy of undertaking an investigation of Holy Writ until there was some acknowledgement of its divine qualities and its inerrant nature’ (p. 74).  Again, the statement attacks ‘conservatives’ with no evidence to support it.” In their original, “Reply to the Richard Hess’ review of Old Testament in Archaeology and History,” this criticism was valid. I was delighted to see that the authors did go back and provide examples (often from about a century before the present) as evidence. However, their addition is not marked as a later insertion, after my criticism, but left to appear as though this was part of the original response. It was not.

Camels in the Biblical World

By: Martin Heide, Joris Peters

Heide, Martin, and Joris Peters, Camels in the Biblical World (History, Archaeology, and Culture of the Levant 10; University Park: Eisenbrauns, 2021). Hardback, xix + 411 pp. $149.95. ISBN 978-1-64602-136-9.

The purpose of this review is to make readers aware of the appearance of this important work.  At the same time, it serves to bring up to date and to answer some of the issues appearing in a recent discussion on the Denver Journal.  See the 2020 volume and the double review entries there of:

Camels appear throughout the Old Testament.  A thorough study of all the textual and archaeological evidence provides has long been a need in the burgeoning corpus of realia research on the Bible.  While readers will find some aspects of the work challenging, this text provides an essential reference tool for the subject.  One of the issues in terms of camels and the Bible has been the position that there were no domesticated camels before the first millennium BC. Therefore, the references to camels in Genesis 12-37 should be seen as anachronistic in terms of the claims to having domesticated animals in the early second millennium BC.

The discussion of camels must now consider the joint, comprehensive work of two scholars, Martin Heide and Joris Peters.  Heide is Associate Professor of Semitic Languages at the Center for Near and Middle Eastern Studies, Philipps-Universität Marburg. Peters is Professor and Chair of Palaeoanatomy, Domestication Research and the History of Veterinary Medicine at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München. They have published Camels in the Biblical World (History, Archaeology, and Culture of the Levant 10; University Park: Eisenbrauns, 2021).  It is not possible to summarize all the lexical, literary, iconographic, and archaeological evidence that the authors do in their 400-page volume.  Indeed, the skills required to accurately evaluate such a work are beyond the abilities of all but a few.  A brief statement of the work of Heide and Peters, with some helpful illustrations, is available on the ASOR site, ANE Today: https://www.asor.org/anetoday/2022/09/camels-biblical-world

Here it is important to note one or two points about the question of camels in Genesis. I begin with a critical distinction. The dromedary is not synonymous with the camel.  This is very important because discussions about appearances, or lack thereof, of the dromedary do not exhaust the question of the presence of camels. The dromedary is the one-humped camel, also called the Arabian camel.  The other “species” of camel is the Bactrian camel, which according to Heide and Peters, was attested in Sumerian lexical texts already in the third millennium BC  It emerged from Central Asia and was used in trade westward into Mesopotamia, where, by the time of the mid-second millennium BC it was designated as (Sumerian am.si.ḫar.ra.an) “elephant of the caravan,” and later (into the first millennium BC) also as (Sumerian am.si.kur.ra) “elephant of the mountain.”  It appears in lexical lists, in a love song addressed to Dumuzi, in an incantation, in one or two proverbs, and “presumably” in an administrative letter; but it does not appear in contemporary administrative or commercial lists.  The Akkadian word, ibilu, is the equivalent used for these Sumerian terms.  It is also used, along with gammalu, for the dromedary which occurs in the lexical lists as (Sumerian anše.a.ab.ba) “donkey of the Sealand.”  This term appears first in the latter part of the second millennium BC. 

Regarding the Bactrian camel and its appearance in Genesis texts, see the quote on pp. 302-3 of Heide and Peters’ work: 

“Turning to the Genesis narratives, the ultimate mention of camels (Genesis 12, 24) takes us to the Haran region in Aram-Naharaim (§4.2).  The Genesis narrator, if indeed referring to historical incidents from the second millennium BC, informs us that Abram left upper Mesopotamia early in the second millennium BC (§4.2.1), at a time when Bactrian camels had already been employed in distant overland trade for centuries.  The life story of Abram thus coincides with the mention of am.si.ḫar.ra.an and am.si.kur.ra camels in cuneiform sources. In Abram’s story, camels are mentioned ones as his property (§ and – significantly – on several occasions in connection with long journeys.  These include the one of his servant to Aram-Naharaim (§4.2.2) and that of his grandson Jacob traveling with a small camel herd from Upper Mesopotamia to Canaan (§4.2.3). In Abram’s lifetime, camels seem highly prized for carrying considerable loads long distance, but at the regional scale, donkeys remained the main means of transport in Bronze Age economies (§4.2.4-4.2.5).”

When one takes into consideration all the evidence, both archeological and literary, one sees a peripheral but attested presence of domesticated Bactrian camels in the ancient Near East at the time traditionally assigned to the narratives of Genesis 12-37.

For the study of camels, this volume is highly recommended as the most current and thorough work of research available.  The Bible reader will learn much about every aspect of camels.  For example, to what do the forty camels in 2 Kgs. 8:9 refer?  Heide and Peter (pp. 272-73) compare “a load of mules” in 2 Kgs. 5:17, and suggest that the reference to forty camels may have been a means to “measure substantial amounts of trade goods in Damascus,” an international caravan commercial center, i.e., “a forty-camel load.”  The reader will also become better informed about the portrayals of camels in the prophets, especially Isaiah and Jeremiah. 

On October 24, 2022, I had some exchange with Martin Heide, co-author of the book Camels in the Biblical World, about his opinion on camels in Genesis.  His helpful response is reproduced here:

“Sapir-Hen & Ben-Yosef’s article from 2013 (TA 40, pp. 277–285) is sometimes cited as ‘proof’ that an individual like Abram could not have camels at the beginning of the 2nd millennium BCE. However, what Sapir-Hen and Ben-Yosef’s thoroughly researched study really demonstrates is that dromedaries were not engaged as pack animals prior to the 10th century BC on an archaeologically measurable scale; ‘significant appearance,’ as they call it. These camels did not belong to pastoralists wandering through the Levant but were exploited in copper mining. 

Now, there is a lot of debate as to whether Abram/Abraham could have existed at all, etc. Leaving this aside for the moment and focusing exclusively on the question of whether camels were domesticated before the 10th century BCE, this question can be answered unequivocally in the affirmative for the following reasons: 1. Two-humped camels were domesticated by the middle of the 3rd millennium at the latest in regions east of the Zagros mountains; 2. Domestic two-humped camels have been known in Mesopotamia from the end of the third / beginning of the 2nd millennium onwards; 3. Camels were not primarily bred to ‘stay at home,’ but were used to cover vast distances in trade and transport. The end of the 3rd / beginning of the 2nd millennium BCE is known as a period with many long- distance interregional trade contacts. After all, there could well have been individuals that wandered around between Mesopotamia, the Levant, and Egypt with their sheep, cattle, and donkeys, and who had also acquired some two-humped camels in Mesopotamia, directly or via intermediaries. However, as such an individual (or any pastoralist taking advantage of these wonderful animals) did not exploit many camels in hard labor in a specific area over an extended period of time (such as in copper mining), nor engage in intensive overland trade with other regions from a particular location (cf. the finds of Tell Jemmeh), finding any camel remains would be very unlikely.“

Richard S. Hess, Ph.D.
Distinguished Professor of Old Testament and Semitic Languages
Denver Seminary
October 2022

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